2004 was not an especially great year for movies. Though there were many good films (and a handful of highly memorable ones), this year's awards season has surprisingly few quality releases to choose from. This list, which does not include December releases that will not arrive in the Jackson area until early next year (if at all), looks at the 10 most worth seeing.
1"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" – Though it was first released more than nine months ago, no 2004 film has yet eclipsed the unique brilliance of Michel Gondry's mind-bending romance. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are perfectly matched as lovers who undergo a procedure to eliminate all memory of their former relationship. Beautifully heartbreaking and dazzlingly surreal, "Eternal Sunshine" is still the best movie of the year.
2"Maria Full of Grace" – Joshua Marston's remarkable debut film examines the illicit South American practice of using young women to transport drugs across borders via ingestion. The film's quiet, understated tone pushes the characters and story into the forefront while depicting the year's most harrowing subject matter, with a powerhouse performance by Catalina Sandino Moreno. "Maria Full of Grace" is in Spanish with English subtitles.
3"The Incredibles" – Pixar Animation Studios' best film to date is a fun and thought-provoking ride that offers surprisingly solid themes about identity and individualism. "The Incredibles" contains all of the intelligence, humor and excitement Pixar releases have always offered, but its epic style and keenness about superhero stories makes this one a true homerun.
4"Kill Bill Vol. 2" – With unforgettable performances by Uma Thurman and David Carradine (both recently nominated for Golden Globes), Quentin Tarantino's conclusion to the "Kill Bill" saga is a much milder and more emotional film than its predecessor. It's also better: a profound, marvelously postmodern tale of redemption and revenge that makes a worthy addition to the Tarantino anthology.
5"Dogville" – Lars von Trier's delicate, luminous examination of small-town American life is as tragic as it is important, with a bruising message about how people can behave when given unconditional power. Some may find the unique concept alienating (the entire three-hour film takes place on a set with chalk outlines on the floor representing buildings and scenery), but Nicole Kidman's shattering performance will break anyone's heart.
6"Before Sunset" – Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their roles for this sequel to 1994's "Before Sunrise." Nine years after their chance meeting on a train and their brief love affair in Vienna, Jesse and Celine reconnect in Paris and reconsider the worldviews they held as post-undergraduates. Director Richard Linklater creates intoxicating suspense by unfolding a series of conversations over the course of an afternoon in this naturalistic, magical film.
7"Hero" – Certainly the year's most visually handsome arrival, Zhang Yimou's deceptively simple film about the meeting between a patriotic do-gooder (or is he?) and his king is riveting storytelling and sumptuous eye candy. Though it will likely best be remembered for its visual poetry, this adventure truly soars thanks to Yimou's masterful pacing. "Hero" is in Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles.
8"Dawn of the Dead" – After most of the world's population turns into "walking dead" overnight, a small band of survivors finds refuge in an abandoned shopping mall. Zack Snyder's "reimagining" of George A. Romero's zombie classic wisely chooses apocalyptic tragedy over tongue-in-cheek philosophy. The result is a grim parable with genuine suspense, some intelligent humor and the year's best ending.
9"Fahrenheit 9/11" – Michael Moore's stunning examination of American fear and disillusionment under the Bush administration is one of the year's most emotional experiences, whether you agree with Moore's politics or not. Though it will never be known how many votes were swayed or how many minds were changed by "Fahrenheit 9/11" before November's election, the film's willingness to scrutinize makes it one impressive piece of propaganda.
10"Spider-Man 2" – A far better sequel than it has any right to be, Sam Raimi's follow-up to 2002's successful "Spider-Man" boasts a better story, a better villain and better effects, making it perhaps the most fully realized comic book film to date. Though certainly a technical marvel, it's the surprisingly engaging plot that allows "Spider-Man 2" to weave its thrilling web.
The rest of the best: 10 more 2004 films worth seeing on DVD – "The Dreamers," "Garden State," "Coffee and Cigarettes," "I Heart Huckabees," "The Motorcycle Diaries," "Collateral," "The Terminal," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," "Super Size Me," "BAADASSSSS!"
Note that the Crossroads crew is bringing two of last year's best films -- "I Heart Huckabees" and "Maria Full of Grace" -- to Jackson in January, as well as one of Paul's "rest of the best" -- "The Motorcycle Diaries."
Very nice work, guys. ;-D